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19 October, 2023 - 14:39 By News Desk

Antler Bio probes impact of nature and nurture on cows’ milk yields

A Cambridge startup has developed a new platform to help probe why genetically similar cows in a herd have a lower milk yield than others.

The data produced by Antler Bio is proving gold dust for farmers and even investigates how environmental issues can be a factor.

For example, could dehydration be a factor in the poorer milk yield from cows with similar genetics? Subclinical signs of stress are difficult to detect but Antler’s new platform EPIHERD, is harnessing gene expression data to advise on the status of the herd and advise on targeted interventions.

Maria Jensen, CEO of Antler Bio, started out by researching these issues among racehorses. She says that results from a recent collaborative research project on cows have exceeded expectations.

She says: “Using EPIHERD we are able to do a deep dive to investigate issues and report this back to farmers so they can take action.” Antler was recently awarded follow on funding from the Innovate UK Better Food for All programme.

Antler Bio presented at the Agri-TechE REAP Conference last year and Jensen says that since then the company been delighted with the response from farmers to its decision support platform.

Explaining that gene expression may be influenced by environmental factors, Jensen adds: “By measuring which genes are actually active in an animal, and their level of activity, we can bridge the existing data gap between the animal’s DNA and its performance.

“Our project aimed to understand the gene expression profiles between top and underperforming dairy cattle. We have succeeded in identifying novel biomarkers that are linked to productivity and these are being patented. 

“We have also developed a highly sophisticated data analysis and validation methodology and have built this into our EPIHERD reporting platform.

“By understanding events that promote desirable or undesirable gene expression we can give precision recommendations regarding habitat, animal husbandry and feed in order to unlock the herd’s full potential and support herd health in a natural way.”

Jensen cites one herd where Antler Bio was able to determine that the significant difference between high and low performing individuals were signatures of dehydration between these groups.

“When we presented this to the farmer, he thought it was most likely due to the combination of herd dynamics and the positioning of the water troughs. He immediately bought a water unit and installed it at a strategic spot, enabling better water access to the high-potential but submissive animals.

“The data from another herd revealed a need for omega-3 fatty acids and the nutrient choline, which previously had gone unnoticed even though they conduct routine analysis on the forage with nutritional experts. This farm started supplementing the herd and have reported an increase in milk yield ever since.

“Another example was a farm where herd data indicated that the cows were stressed due to suboptimal hygiene conditions in the barn. Although the animals were healthy and unaffected on a visible level, our data showed that they were constantly diverting energy that could be used for milk production towards counteracting infections. Through simple hygiene improvements the farm was able to increase milk yield.

“These few examples highlight the power and the potential of the data that we bring to farmers’ fingertips.”

Antler Bio is building towards a seed round, has recently closed a bridging funding round with the Nest Family Office, and has secured a Women TechEU award from the European Commission.

The 2023 Agri-TechE REAP Conference takes place on November 8 and again includes a Start-Up Showcase of early growth companies with promising technologies. This year’s conference includes a keynote session featuring Defra Chief Scientist Professor Gideon Henderson and livestock farmer and NFU Vice-President David Exwood. It is being held from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm at the Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket. 

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